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Amorphis - Biography






There is power in a name, as ancient wisdom claims. And sometimes a prophecy. It was a moment of rare foresight when guitarist Esa Holopainen came up with a name for his new band: Amorphis. Derived from "amorphous" (without determinate form, shapeless), the choice would subsequently prove more apt than anyone could have imagined at the time. It was the fall of 1990, and the band's two founding members, Esa and drummer Jan Rechberger, had recently joined forces with guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari and bassist Olli-Pekka "Oppu" Laine to leave their mark on the emerging Finnish death metal scene, only to transcend it by far and set their sights on new horizons before that scene even reached the surface of public awareness. From the outset, Amorphis were determined to follow no vision but their own. Asked a few months after the band's conception whether Amorphis would ever change style if some new trend came along, Esa answered: "We'll change our style only if we manage to create something ourselves." A programmatic statement for a band that would go on to reinvent itself with every new album, continuously challenge listeners to forget all their preconceptions about music, and, through all ups and downs, never bow to compromise.

In January 1991, Amorphis spent two days in Timo Tolkki's (Stratovarius) TTT Studio to record their first, and only, demo. While not satisfying the critical tastes of the band members themselves, the three-track Disment of Soul caught the attention of Relapse Records, and the American label was quick to sign the young band. In May 1991, Amorphis was already back at TTT to record six songs. Only two of these were picked for the first 7? single, but the full session was two years later released on the EP Privilege of Evil. Frequent club gigs won the group a devoted fan base even before they entered Stockholm's famed Sunlight Studio in May 1992 to record their first full-length album. The Karelian Isthmus was released in 1993 and, like the four following albums, distributed in Europe through Nuclear Blast Records. Albeit rightfully overshadowed by Amorphis' later work, the assertive debut showcased many of the elements that would soon become the band's trademarks. Majestic, doom-laden riffs combined with concise, folk-influenced guitar leads and atmospheric keyboard passages set this album apart from many of its contemporaries and offered a glimpse of future greatness. In recent years, songs from this album have made a comeback in Amorphis' live set, seamlessly blending with the band's later work and proving they have indeed stood the test of time.

Although The Karelian Isthmus took its name from a historic Finnish battleground, its lyrics contemplated universal themes of warfare and religion, drawing on Celtic mythology rather than the traditions of Amorphis' own native land. With its sophomore release, however, the group reclaimed its Finnish heritage in triumph, creating a monumental album that single-handedly put the small Nordic country on the map of progressive metal and is nowadays considered an all-time classic: Tales from the Thousand Lakes, a concept album based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. While still strongly rooted in the death metal tradition, this 1994 release already branched out beyond the usual confinements of the genre. The boldest step toward a new direction was the addition of clean vocals, provided by Kyyria's Ville Tuomi. Ville's melodic voice, elegantly contrasting with Tomi's growls, brought a new dimension to the band's sound, as did the greater prominence of synthesizer and piano. Whereas the synth tracks on the first album had been laid down by drummer Jan, Amorphis had recently found a full-time keyboard player in Kasper Mårtenson. Kasper's best-known contribution to the band's repertoire was the song "Black Winter Day", which was later released on an EP (flanked by outtakes from the Tales sessions) and remains a favorite among old and new fans alike.

The success of Tales was immediate and overwhelming. Strenuous tours and tough schedules, however, took their toll, and Kasper soon decided to leave the band. A successor was found in Kim Rantala. Jan was replaced by Pekka Kasari (ex-Stone), and just before recording their third album, Amorphis recruited a sixth member, singer Pasi Koskinen. With this new line-up, the band boldly launched into its most adventurous endeavor yet. Elegy (1996) became a quantum leap for Amorphis, the watershed between their death/doom beginnings and the unique brand of progressive rock that has been the cornerstone of their albums ever since. Without doubt, Elegy was still a metal album, and a highly acclaimed one at that, yet there was a lot more to it. Its songs were not even based on guitar riffs anymore but on pure melody, often with a distinct Eastern touch. The mesmerizing interplay between Kim's lush synthesizer arabesques and Esa's immaculate guitar lines conjured up the spirit of 1970s progressive rock at its finest. Lyrics were again adapted from Finnish mythology, in this case, the Kanteletar, a collection of ancient folk poetry. Pasi and Tomi shared the vocals on a roughly equal basis, with Pasi's role restricted to the clean parts. To demonstrate the band's increasing versatility, an acoustic version of Elegy's perhaps most significant song, "My Kantele", was added as a reprise at the end of the album. This acoustic rendition also served as the title track of the next EP, released in 1997, which contained two new originals as well as two excellent cover versions of songs by Hawkwind and Finland's own heroes of oriental-flavored psychedelia, the legendary Kingston Wall.

After about one and a half years of ceaseless touring following the release of Elegy, the band members opted for a time-out to recharge their batteries and think about new material. From the outset it was clear that the next album would have to do without the massive production of Elegy and strive for an earthier, less meandering feel. This decision was in part due to the fact that the band was again without a keyboardist after losing sight of ever-busy Kim. Toward the end of the studio sessions, Santeri Kallio of Kyyria was brought in to add some tasteful keyboard tracks to the songs, but first and foremost, 1999's Tuonela was a guitar album. Its mellow, understated beauty displayed the maturity of a band that had fully come into its own, making music for the sheer joy of playing a good song without wasting a thought on categories. Even the album's one "pure" metal track, "Greed", was playfully introduced by an Indian-style melody, performed by Tomi on sitar. Other foreign spices were provided by saxophonist/flutist Sakari Kukko of world music legend Piirpauke. The guitar parts were honed to perfection, often reminiscent of Pink Floyd or U2 in their extensive yet sophisticated use of delay effects. All vocals including the few remaining grunts were now performed by Pasi, who had also written almost all of the lyrics. With hindsight, Tuonela may be considered the most focused Amorphis album of the Koskinen era, each of its ten songs a timeless gem in its own right yet forged smoothly together into a coherent whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The new millennium was greeted with the tenth-anniversary compilation Story and another line-up change. Following the breakup of Kyyria, Santeri had already joined Amorphis as a full-time member when bassist Oppu felt he could no longer commit himself to the band. He was succeeded by another ex-Kyyria member, Niclas Etelävuori, who came in just in time for Amorphis' third U.S. tour. Back home in Finland, the studio beckoned again. Am Universum, released in 2001, retained the moody atmosphere of Tuonela but introduced more varied soundscapes and a much wider dynamic range. Instead of letting the guitars dominate throughout, more space was given to keyboards and saxophone work, the latter again masterfully contributed by Sakari Kukko. The folk influences took a step back on Am Universum in favor of a more experimental approach, allowing for liberated studio jams. In the literal sense of the word rather than in purely musical terms, this was Amorphis' most psychedelic - that is, soul-baring - offering to date, not in the least due to Pasi's increased confidence as a lyricist and singer. The opening track "Alone", a quintessential Amorphis song, was released as a single and topped the Finnish charts for three weeks. In 2002 the band was asked for a contribution to the soundtrack for the movie Menolippu Mombasaan. The commissioned piece was a cover version of a 1976 Finnish pop hit, "Kuusamo", which was given the full Amorphis treatment and remains the band's only song in their native tongue to this day.

Amorphis' longstanding relationship with Relapse Records ended with Am Universum. In 2003, Relapse released the retrospective Chapters, which included a DVD featuring the band's videos from "Black Winter Day" to "Alone". Freed from a contract whose smallprint had not always been in their best interests, the band members decided to record the next album on their own terms and shop for a label with the finished product in hand. Far From The Sun was produced by the band itself, which had been rejoined by original drummer Jan Rechberger after Pekka Kasari had quit to concentrate on family duties. Recording most of the tracks at Niclas' and Santeri's own CCPC studio obviously added to the relaxed and intimate feeling of this album. Involving no guest performances apart from some background vocals, it came closer to Amorphis' live sound than any of their previous recordings did. Compared to Am Universum, Far From The Sun turned out heavier, more straightforward and also once again more folk-oriented, journeying deep into Turkish and Persian territory. The album was released by Virgin/EMI in the spring of 2003, but only in Europe. The US release had to wait until the fall of 2004 and would have been accompanied by a North American tour, had not fate stepped in. The tour itself was ultimately canceled for reasons beyond the control of the band, yet the prospect of it gave Pasi the reason he had been looking for to leave the band after nine years and concentrate on his various other musical projects.

The search for a new frontman was no easy task. Of more than a hundred demos submitted by hopeful candidates, not one fit the criteria. In the end, Amorphis found the right person through word of mouth: Tomi Joutsen (Sinisthra), a powerful, multi-faceted singer with breathtaking on-stage charisma. His intense, deeply emotional delivery immediately won the crowds over at each concert the band gave in 2005, including a one-month tour of North America. Himself a fan of Amorphis since their early days, Tomi brought not only new vigor and a fresh perspective to the band but also the initiative to revive the use of contrasting vocal styles that had contributed so much to the magic of Elegy and Tales. Befitting this choice, the band - which by then had signed with its trusted partner of old, Nuclear Blast - decided to reconnect with its own past on another, even more surprising level with a thematic return to the sources of Finland's literary heritage. Eclipse (2006) recounted the fate of Kullervo, the most tragic character of the Kalevala. The vast dramatic scope of the ancient tale provided the canvas for Amorphis to paint an all-encompassing masterpiece which went straight to the top of the Finnish charts, as did the accompanying single House of Sleep.

Ensuing club gigs and festival appearances all over Europe at long last established Amorphis as a first-rate live act, all the while new songs were already in the making. Released in August 2007, Silent Waters confirmed that a new era had indeed begun: this album was the first in the band's long history to have been recorded with the same personnel as the previous one. Stability, however, does not mean stagnation for Amorphis. While continuing along the lines of Eclipse in both musical and lyrical terms - as opposed to earlier albums, which often differed radically from one to the next - Silent Waters has its own distinct atmosphere and tells a quite different story, namely Lemminkäinen's hunt for the Swan of Tuonela. Its somber mood was gracefully captured in the outstanding cover artwork by renowned US artist Travis Smith, who has been responsible for the band's album and single covers since 2006 including the latest releases. Both Eclipse and Silent Waters went gold in Finland, a feat not yet accomplished by any earlier Amorphis album, and won the band a host of new fans around the globe. The remainder of 2007 was spent on the road in northern and central Europe as well as in Russia and Japan, whereas 2008 found the band in southeastern Europe, at a multitude of summer festivals and, during the fall, in the USA and Canada.

Entering the studio straight after returning from a month of intense touring proved to be a wise choice, as Skyforger (2009) presents Amorphis tighter, more versatile and more focused than ever. A feast of musicianship as well as a triumphant statement from a band that has managed to create its very own sound, the album combines the sheer energy of Eclipse and the sensitivity of Silent Waters with the unbridled creativity of older landmarks like Elegy and Am Universum. While each song from the chart-topping "Silver Bride" to the epic "Sampo" and the thunderous "Majestic Beast" is a gem in its own right, the whole effortlessly surpasses the sum of its parts. The lyrics were again crafted by Finnish poet Pekka Kainulainen and translator Erkki Virta, who already collaborated on the previous album. Bringing the archetypal blacksmith Ilmarinen to life with a depth of character far beyond the one-dimensional portrait of the hero rendered by the Kalevala, the poetry of Skyforger cements the role of Amorphis as modern-day storytellers perpetuating an age-old tradition in their very own way.

Plans for the 20th anniversary year 2010 include the band's first-ever live DVD. Recorded during the Finnish tour in November 2009, it vividly portrays the infectious live energy and sheer musical prowess of Amorphis at the outset of their third decade - creative as ever and not confined to any predetermined shape, yet always instantly recognizable, always true to their own vision, and always unique.